Reading Aloud

>> Tuesday, May 19, 2009

So, once more, a New York Times article provides me inspiration. This time the topic is close to my heart: reading aloud.

The article I linked talked about how people used to read aloud to their families (not just their little ones), how it was, with books scarce, a way of sharing books, sharing time together, sharing the dreams and magic of literature.

Now, according to the article's author, when people read, they try to read the meaning of the words rather than the words themselves. They lose the physicality and, to some, the beauty and magic of the words themselves.

I have said, multiple times, that nothing is more important for your own writing than reading it out loud, listening to how the words link together and sound, how the sentences flow or stumble, how they express your meanings. I suppose that makes me old school on the reading front. (I think, if I ever get published, I'd like to read my own books out loud and make them available inexpensively).

But it's not just my own work I read out loud. I've read dozens of books out loud to Lee, who is dyslexic, many of them half a dozen times or more. It has really brought us together and added a bit of togetherness to a close relationship.

It's a skill I have and I love. I wonder if it's something my other children would enjoy (as my teenager won't sit still for it).

Do you read out loud to anyone? Should you?


  • Roy

    Hmmmm... I once had a girlfriend who liked it when I read aloud each evening before we turned in. I read her Garrison Keillor's Lake Wobegon Days. She liked that one. When we were done with it, I started on my favorite, Douglas Adams's The Hitchhker's Guide to the Galaxy. It lasted only for that first night; she hated it, didn't think it was funny, didn't get the jokes. You can probably figure out how soon that relationship ended!

  • Stephanie B

    Lee got the humor, but I think reading Hitchhiker's Guide the Galaxy out loud pegged out his stupid meter. I felt that way watching the movie. He did like the Myth Adventures by Robert Lynn Asprin.

    I'm not complaining because I got him hooked on a couple of Georgette Heyers and a few other of my personal favorites. Nothing, however, has gone over as well read out loud as the Liaden Universe novels by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller.

  • Patricia Rockwell

    Now here is where I really like poetry. Reading prose aloud is fine, but I can get the gist of it in silent reading. However, with poetry, nothing beats the sensuous feel of beautiful sounds and images produced from lips.

  • Stephanie B

    I won't argue that poetry should really shine read aloud, that, in fact, you don't really know a poem until you've spoken it, heard it, felt it resonate through you.

    But I disagree that reading prose should be any different except in degree. Prose can use language beautifully and, reading a book out loud can really call it forward. Reading a classic out loud, you can tell that the cadence, the beauty of the spoken language was considered when wording, timing, arranging the language they used. Try reading a short story of Poe's out loud and you can hear it, the building of tension, the layer of meaning and sound that makes the story more than the words on the page.

    Perhaps our eschewing of reading out loud has made modern authors lazier in taking full advantage of language in their work (although, as I mentioned, I have a number of modern authors that translates well to the spoken word). To be honest, my mind gravitates toward those writers since I "read" it out loud in my head.

    It's the kind of writer I want to be.

  • Roy

    Interesting. That's exactly how I approach Biblical translation. The original Hebrew and Greek texts are obviously the result of oral transmission because the language rolls off the tongue and resonates. But the usual English translations are stultifying at best. Paul's letters to the different early Christian congregations suffer the most. Paul wrote in an elegant, mellifluous Greek. Unfortunately, since he's considered the first and foremost Christian theologian, he's translated as if he were writing an dry textbook. It's a travesty. I always translate with the idea that it's going to be read aloud and needs to flow.

  • Stephanie B

    I suspect that's why the King James version of the Bible is still popular despite errors I've heard of. The language is beautiful (rather than clear).

    True, we speak English, but there are beauties in the language if we choose to use them.

  • Susan Helene Gottfried

    My kids and I love to read books together, especially books I loved when I was a kid.

    As for words... stay tuned. Trevor and I are up to something at the Meet and Greet.

  • Kelly B

    I read to kids, but beyond that I don't read to anyone. I only read something out loud if I am having trouble grasping it.

    I do love the idea of sitting around reading, especially certain books. Certain books feel like they would be great to read aloud to a family.


  • Shakespeare

    I think poetry, prose and plays should ALL be read aloud. My kids LOVE being read to, and my reading aloud to my husband is pretty much the ONLY reading he ever does. But he listens. When we are on road trips, we pick up a good paper, and I read to him (or vice versa) while he drives.

    Remember when we read Shakespeare aloud together as teens? I'll never forget it.

  • Ravyn

    The trick isn't getting me to read out loud; it's getting me to stop. My parents read to me pretty much until I got out of elementary school, even when I was reading the same books on my own in a fraction of the time (my mother's amazing collection of accents didn't hurt); I then took up the habit, reading to my stepmother as she was quilting or driving to keep her entertained. And at school when we'd read through plays, I'd make a point of grabbing the juicy roles so they'd be done justice to.

    Even now, I serve as a lector for my church; people tend to remember those readings. Just because it's a religious text doesn't mean it can't be done with feeling. (And yes, Roy, I do give proper emphasis to the letters of Paul. Can't entirely balance out the issues with the translation, but tone can at least start making up for it.)

    In answer to your question--yes. Read to your children. Give it everything you've got. There's no reason why it won't work.

  • Davida

    I read aloud to myself, my daughter, and my husband. Reading is sometimes family time for us.


  • musingwoman

    We homeschooled our four kids and reading aloud was a huge part of our lives.

    I read aloud well into the teen years and would have continued if it weren't for a divorce then a fulltime job then the kids started leaving and...sigh. I miss it.

  • Stephanie B

    Once you start and do it regularly, it's amazing how important it becomes to you.

    Reading aloud is FUN.

  • Bob Johnson

    I used to read to my kids a lot, not the same with my cat, you do get a new and different dimension and feeling for the story when you voice the words.

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